One of the things that frustrates business owners and SEO experts are the seemingly shifting rules that Google applies to search. It is only barely in the last 2 years that everyone has finally accepted that the ‘meta-keywords’ tag is virtually useless – even though Google ingores it completely and has done for the past 11 years. However the meta description tag is still very useful in driving traffic, even though Google uses ‘snippets’ in new and unpredictable ways. This is a great article about the description tag and how best to use it.
In December 2017, Google doubled the length of search snippets from ~160 to ~320 characters. This meant that we could now write more thorough copy in our Meta Descriptions and have that show up in search results. That lasted for 5 whole months before in May 2018, Google’s Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) confirmed, via Twitter:
“Our search snippets are now shorter on average than in recent weeks, though slightly longer than before a change we made last December. There is no fixed length for snippets. Length varies based on what our systems deem to be most useful.” (Emphasis added.)
There is no fixed length for snippets.
And it’s true, according to RankRanger, the average snippet length in search results has dropped almost 70 characters from a month ago, down to 163.
What’s the difference between a search snippet and a Meta Description?
First, the Meta Description is an HTML tag on a web page that provides a brief description of that page.
A SERP snippet, or search snippet, is the flavor text below the organic blue links in search results that are sometimes taken from a page’s Meta Description.
Sample generated with Portent’s SERP Preview Tool
What does Google’s new snippet length mean for SEO?
“Meta Descriptions are still important!”, is what I mutter to myself over and over as I rock back and forth, huddled under my desk.
Seriously though, they are still pretty darn important, despite being frustratingly arbitrary. Despite Google’s best attempts to slowly take this out of the hands of SEOs, if you don’t pay attention to your Meta Descriptions you can still end up with SERP snippets like:
Looking at the recent data presented by Moz’s Dr. Pete, the majority of SERP snippets are between 145 -165 so, it would be really easy to say, “Just go back to the way things were, write Meta Descriptions to 155 characters.”
But that’s not what I’m going to say.
As far as I can tell, none of the old rules apply anymore. Google may or may not use your Meta Description in the snippet and may or may not write their own snippet. So what should you do?
Well, first you should finish reading this and then read Dr. Pete’s post on How to Write Meta Descriptions in a Constantly Changing World (link below), where he lays out some really good options.
And, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do:
I’m going to write meaningful and useful Meta Descriptions.
I am not going to hard stop at 155 characters, neither will I write to fill up 320 characters.
I’m going to write my Meta Description for what it is supposed to be: a concise summary of a page’s content that provides useful information to a searcher.
I will use any relevant, targeted keywords or phrases.
I will write in a way that will encourage clicks through to my pages.
And the length of those Meta Descriptions will probably be between 150-300 characters.
Because honestly, if the target keeps moving, I’m going to aim wherever I darn well please.
Our search snippets are now shorter on average than in recent weeks, though slightly longer than before a change we made last December. There is no fixed length for snippets. Length varies based on what our systems deem to be most useful.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) May 14, 2018